Helen Wyatt Snapp
May 1, 1918 – January 20, 2013
Class: 43-W-4
Training Location: Houston Municipal Airport (Tex.) and Avenger Field (Sweetwater, Tex.)
Assigned Bases: New Castle Army Air Base (Wilmington, Del.) and Camp Davis Army Air Field (N.C.)
Planes flown: A-24, A-25, AT-11, B-34, PQ-14, PQ-8, UC-78

“There’s nothing like flying. I would encourage anyone to at least try it.    There’s nothing like being up there by yourself.  You’re never closer to God than when you’re up in the sky.” 
WASP Helen Wyatt Snapp, Class 43-W-4

Born May 1, 1918 in Washington, DC, Helen was the middle child in her family, with two older sisters and a younger brother and sister.  At age eight, young Helen sat on a curb on Pennsylvania Avenue and watched as aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, rode by in a ticker-tape parade.  Her brief glimpse of the aviation pioneer, who had just returned from the world record setting first solo flight across the Atlantic, remained an inspiration throughout her lifetime.

After high school, Helen attended Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, VA, planning to become a teacher.  However, on summer break, she saw an ad in the paper for flying lessons.  She convinced her sister to join her and, without telling the rest of the family, they signed up.   Eventually, they both soloed. Helen then dropped out of college, used her part-time pay (working for the telephone company) to pay for more flying time.  She eventually re-enrolled in college to take advantage of the CPT (Civilian Pilot Training) program.  CPT gave her the opportunity to build up her flying hours and to attend ground school classes at night.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, early 1942, Helen married her beau, Ira Benton “Ben” Snapp and put her flying on hold.  After her husband graduated from officer training, he was shipped overseas with the 3rd Infantry.

In early 1943, she received a telegram from aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran, inviting her to apply for the newly created Army Air Forces flying training program for women pilots.  She was interviewed by Ms. Cochran  at the Mayflower Hotel in DC and accepted.

“Before I knew it, I found my way to Texas.  I had never been away from home before…it was quite an experience just to take that step.  But I was just thrilled to pieces, because I just loved to fly.  And here I was going to be able to fly all those wonderful military airplanes!”

On Feb. 4, 1943, Helen, together with half of her class of 151 young women pilots,  reported to Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas for military flight training,.   At that time, there were male Canadian cadets in training there at Avenger Field and living in some of the barracks.  They were  soon shipped out to other bases, leaving room for the other half of Helen’s class to report to Avenger Field.

After completing the required six months of flight training, which was essentially the same training as the male Army Air Force Cadets were receiving,  on Aug. 7, 1943, Helen and 111 classmates graduated, received their silver WASP wings,  and became WASP–Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Shortly after graduation, Helen and a group of other WASP were given temporary orders to report to the Pentagon.  After a week of briefing, they, received orders to report to Camp Davis Army Air Field, North Carolina, an anti-aircraft artillery school.  After transitioning into A-24’s and A-25’s, Helen flew tow-target missions over the Atlantic, as gunners on the beach fired live ammunition at her cloth target.  (She also flew radar, searchlight, tracking and strafing missions.)

After completing the transition training at Camp Davis, she was sent to Liberty Field, near Camp Stewart/Savannah, Georgia.  She and five other WASP were selected for ‘R-Flight’- a top secret initiative located on an “off-limits” part of the field. There, she learned to “fly” a PQ-8 & PQ-14, which were radio-controlled drone aircraft, from a console inside an AT-11 or UC-78 control ship.  (In time, this led to the development of the more sophisticated remote-controlled planes used by the Air Force today.)

By the time the WASP were disbanded in Dec. of 1944, Helen had charted over 1,000 hours in her log book, including time in the PT-19, BT-13, AT-6, UC-78, P-34, B-17, PQ-8, PQ-14  and her favorites, the A24 “Douglas Dauntless” and the A25 “Hell Diver.”

After her WASP service was over, Helen arrived back in DC, her husband, now Captain Ira Snapp, returned from overseas duty and retired.  The couple settled down on a family farm near Staunton, Virginia.  Helen gave up flying, went to work for the US Post Office, and they began their family, which eventually included three sons.

Helen Wyatt Snapp in 2008

Snapp didn’t talk about her time as a WASP with her family until the program was declassified in 1972. Afterwards, she became an advocate for the WASP to be recognized officially as military veterans. Snapp moved from Alexandria to Pembroke Pines in 1984. She was presented with a Congressional Medal of Honor in 2010 for her service with WASP.

During her later years, Helen raised Pekingese dogs and was an avid gardener—and, as she pointed out, “flowers and vegetables.”  She became active in the National WASP organization, serving as National Treasurer from 2002-2004.  She was a proud member of the Ninety Nines, The Valiant Air Command, and was a fan of the women astronauts, attending several shuttle and rocket launches near her home on the east coast of Florida.

Snapp died on January 20, 2013, in Pembroke Pines from complications coming after suffering a broken hip. Her WASP uniform is in the collection of the Fort Stewart Museum

Sources:
Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas
WWII Digital Collections of National WWII Museum
Wikipedia
Betty Turner’s “Out of the Blue and Into History”  p. 89 “Helen Snapp in Her Own Words”
North Carolina’s WWII Experience: Helen Snapp/WASP
Veteran’s History Project: Interview with Helen Snapp (5/23/2011)

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